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HIST 199: FYS History

Research guide for HIST 199: FYS History.

Digital primary source collections

Through the Library, you have access to dozens of primary source databases that include fully digitized primary sources of all types. The best way to find digital collections on specific topics is to use the appropriate History Subject Guide, and click "Find primary sources."

Also consider exploring collections available through the following general primary source databases:

Catalogue tricks to find primary sources

Sourcebooks and Readers

Primary sources are often gathered, in some cases translated, and reprinted in collections to make them more accessible to students. These are often called "sourcebooks" (also spelled "source books") and "readers."

To locate these items, try searching the Library Catalogue with keywords including the word sources, which is the term used in Subject Headings to identify primary sources.

Example searches:

Tip: Be sure to select "Libraries Worldwide" for more comprehensive results.

Other Catalogue Strategies

Another strategy is to try combining your topic keywords with one or more of the following terms, which are types or descriptions of primary sources:

autobiography letters
autoethnography narratives
biography "oral history"
correspondence memoir
diary OR diaries perspective
"first person" photography
interview speech OR speeches

For example:

"residential schools" AND (diary OR diaries OR memoir*)

Newspapers and magazines


Newspaper articles are very useful primary sources. They were often produced by reporters who had access to eyewitness accounts not otherwise accessible today. Newspaper articles are usually not long nor are they published individually, but rather as part of an issue. An issue refers to a single day's newspaper. Some newspapers are published daily, others weekly, biweekly, or on another schedule. Using daily newspapers to follow a single historical topic, such as an election or the fallout of a natural disaster, can allow the historian to watch a story unfold, much as it would have appeared to the contemporary participant or onlooker.

Many newspapers are now available fully digitized and can be keyword searched. Some of the most common newspapers used by students are included below. To find more, refer to the appropriate History Subject Guide or the the Newspapers Guide.


Magazines typically appear weekly, monthly or quarterly and include articles and advertisements dedicated to a specific topic. Magazines can be an excellent way to study popular culture, especially of a particular consumer group. We have access to many British, Canadian, and American magazines. To identify what magazines are available for a topic, refer to the appropriate History Subject Guide. A small selection is included below.

Diaries, memoirs, and correspondence

Diaries, memoirs, and correspondence are excellent primary sources. However, relatively few of these types of sources are published, rather, they are usually in unpublished manuscript form. For those that are published, they are rarely published in the time of the events they concern, but are rather typically published much later. 

Some key historical figures do have diaries or correspondence published. For these individuals, try searching the Library Catalogue for their name alongside the type of source you're looking for, such as:

  • Samuel Pepys AND diary
  • Northrop Frye AND diaries

Biographical encyclopedias or dictionaries are excellent ways to identify individuals who may have published diaries or correspondence. Here are a few resources:

Government documents

Although more recent government documents are frequently available from governmental websites, older documents may only be available in printed format, although some have also been digitized. Some items are more easily accessible than others. Some resources for accessing government documents are available below; for more geographic areas, consult the History Subject Guide or consult the Liaison Librarian.


Statistics are useful background information to historical events and situations. They were often produced by knowledgeable researchers who had access to necessary raw data not easily accessible today, if at all. Governments are notorious statistics gatherers and publish their findings in a variety of sources, the most basic of which is the census. Other statistics are also available for NGOs and other organizations. Some of the resources to identify statistics are included below.

More U.S., Canadian, and international datasets are available on the Numeric Data Subject Guide.


Photographs are useful background information to historical events and situations after about the 1850s. They are often revealing witnesses to the people and places involved -- but remember, photographs can be staged and manipulated, even in the years before Photoshop and filters.

Photographs are usually not large and are almost never published individually. This material is rarely indexed separately and is best found using secondary sources of logical inferences (i.e. where are photographs likely to occur?).

The resources listed in the sections on finding contemporary newspaper and magazine articles will also locate photographs that accompanied contemporary articles. Government reports, in particular Sessional Papers, sometimes contain photographs. Indexing of government documents has varied over the years.

Several online collections of historical photographs are also available, especially from museums, provincial archives, and even public libraries. 

Catalogue trick

To use the Catalogue to find photographs of people in books, add "nt:ports” to your search terms. This asks the catalogue to identify resources with "portraits" (ports) in the "notes" (nt:) field. In books from the time period covered by this course, portraits will almost always be photographs. 


  • "Red river rebellion" nt:ports
  • American civil rights nt:ports

The work need not actually have been published in the time of the event in order to contain appropriate historical photographs. Modern secondary works, both books and articles, are often your best sources for historical photographs, and popular ones are usually better than scholarly ones.

Locations to find photos

Many of our primary source databases include photographs. Additionally, there are several other online locations to find photos, such as specific collections of museums or archives. Of course, you can also try one of the image search engines on the web, such as Google Images.

Literary works

Contemporary literary materials (such as plays, poetry, fiction, films, etc.) are useful sources for revealing popular reactions to historical events and situations.

While novels can usually be located much like other books, poems, short stories, and plays are usually shorter works and they were rarely published individually.  Appropriate material other than book-length fiction is rarely indexed anywhere and is best found using secondary sources such as biographies of the participants, histories of the event, or secondary works on the social or cultural milieu in which the event unfolded. 

Catalogue trick

For items that you know the exact title of, try searching for the title using exact phrase searching (i.e., "in quotation marks").

Separately published material (books, plays) can be found by using the appropriate subject subheading, such as su:fiction, su:poetry, su:drama, and even su:film (e.g., “Red River Rebellion" su:fiction; or "Red River Rebellion" su:poetry). 

Subject guides

You may wish to refer to the subject guides for literature in specific languages or from specific regions, available below.


Maps are useful background information to historical events and situations. They were often produced by knowledgeable cartographers who had access to necessary raw data and descriptions not easily accessible today, if at all. 

While maps can be large and published separately, they can also be small and hidden within other publications. This material is rarely indexed separately and is best found using secondary sources or logical inferences (i.e., where are maps likely to occur?).

Catalogue trick

To use the Catalogue to find maps in books, add "nt:maps" to your search terms.

Finding maps

There are several collections of digitized historic maps available, often through university libraries, archives, or special collections. A few examples are included below.

For more maps, refer to the Maps & Geospatial Data Subject Guide.

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